Remember the old email hoax about Hillary Clinton pushing for email taxation? When we first heard AOL's plans for Goodmail today, we thought maybe the hoax had re-surfaced and a few industry reporters got hooked by it. But alas, this tax plan seems to be true.
AOL has long held the leading standard in email whitelisting. Every email sender who cares about delivery has tried to keep their email reputation high so that they could earn placement on AOL's coveted Enhanced Whitelist. Now, AOL may be saying that those standards don't matter as much as a postage stamp when it comes to email delivery.
AOL will begin phasing out its enhanced whitelist in favor of Goodmail's brand new and untested certification program — which requires a fee for each email sent. This effectively encourages marketers and senders to focus not as much on email best practices but on paying cash for inbox reach. It punishes companies who already do everything right with email by adding another roadblock before they can reach customers.
With senders having to pay a fraction of a cent for each email sent, the fees for companies (and profits for AOL and Goodmail) will mount and good mailers will not always be able to participate — even if they have a pristine email reputation and customer relationship. This is in effect taxation of the good guys with cash – and it does nothing to help the good guys who can't afford the cost or to deter the bad guys who just plan to spam anyway.
Email getting delivered to the mailbox should be based on the reputation of the sender — not whether they paid for guaranteed delivery. Now AOL is saying that isn't enough. By charging significant dollars for email delivery, AOL and Goodmail are on the road to creating a "pay to play" model that puts subscriber benefit and sender equality second.
Goodmail reportedly uses some reputation data to determine "good" senders. What data do they use? Is it comprehensive? It is our strong opinion that email delivery should be based on a solid email reputation. That reputation should be based on a comprehensive set of data points including in-depth complaint rates, unknown user rates, spam trap data, permission practices, email infrastructure, volume of email sent and identity integrity, among a long list of other factors.
If Goodmail looks at less data than AOL currently uses ... so how can it be better?
AOL stands to make a lot of money at the risk of setting back email as best practices-based marketing. This is bad for senders who care about setting high email standards, bad for consumers' inboxes and simply, bad policy.
There's been a ton of coverage of this problem, including this great one in DMNews. Look for a lot more reaction from the industry to this once people really understand what's going on.
Update Feb 3, 2006:
Disclaimer: Matt Blumberg is the CEO & Chairman of Return Path, Inc.
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Minds + Machines